Meant To Be Ch. 01byfoolish_hobgoblin©
I wrote this a few years ago, before the others I've submitted, so you may notice a difference. Honestly, I'm not thrilled with the writing. Part real, part fantasy, part what-could-have-been, part unrequited or the-one-that-got-away...I don't know. I just know it's a story I felt compelled to write and one that continued to roll around in my head and heart long after it was finished, so I'm letting it out into the world.
Because my emotional attachment to this story exceeds my usual connection to anything I write, I considered turning off comments but that doesn't seem...fair? If you think it sucks, that's fine. Just remember that there's a real person with feelings and doubts and fabulous hair (:P) on the other end over here, and that being tactful never killed anyone. Thanks.
There are a total of ten chapters, which I am submitting all at once.
I almost didn't respond; hardly anyone calls me Cassandra save teachers on the first day of class or doctors offices. Certainly no one pronounces it Cass-ahh-ndra. But something about the deep voice made my spine tingle. I turned around and was rewarded with dark brown eyes looking at me interestedly. My breath caught in my throat and it was a second before I could speak.
"Hi," I said lamely, feeling my cheeks grow warm.
He smiled at me. It was a warm smile, crinkling his eyes in the corners.
"You probably don't remember me -"
"Oh, I remember you," I said emphatically.
My eyes widened and I felt the rest of my face turning red. Idiot, I told myself. But really, how could I forget Nick Hawthorne? We'd met at my cousin Kate's wedding. I was seventeen then, just graduated from high school, terribly shy and awkward. A friend of my Uncle Daniel, Kate's father, he was the first British person I'd met, and I had been fascinated by his accent. I looked away now, remembering how I and my cousins practically hung on his every word, asking him to speak so we could hear his rich voice saying everyday words that sounded so charming to our American ears. I'm sure I had behaved as childishly as a person could.
Now it was four years later and we were at the wedding of Kate's sister, Maggie. And here he was, grinning at me. I had just finished college and though not quite as shy, I still felt generally awkward most of the time. His charming smile wasn't helping. I straightened my shoulders, hoping somehow it would make me seem more mature.
"That's flattering," he quipped.
"I'm surprised you remembered me," I blurted out, then winced at the remark. I was certain my neck was now as red as my face.
His eyebrows shot up in surprise and he gave me a curious look.
"How could I forget you?" he asked lightly.
I managed to refrain from asking if he meant it. Obviously he was teasing. He surprised me by leaning in conspiratorially.
"Don't tell Daniel," he said quietly, his breath tickling my bare shoulder. "But I don't enjoy weddings all that much, particularly when I don't know many people." He straightened up, his eyes twinkling. "I was grateful for your company at the last one, so I'm glad to see you."
I blinked up at him, speechless for a moment.
"Right," I said finally. "I'm sure we were all total pains, begging you to speak just so we could hear your accent."
I grinned at him, amusement momentarily overtaking my embarrassment as I thought of how annoying we must have been. Nick looked puzzled.
"I don't remember that," he said thoughtfully. "I recall a bright young woman who wanted to learn more about England." He gave a rueful laugh. "I regret that I couldn't answer your questions properly."
"All I remember asking you was about Prince Harry and Prince William," I said without thinking, then felt my face redden again.
He chuckled. "Well, it seems we each have some selective memory about that night. Regardless, I'm glad you're here."
He smiled warmly again and I shivered involuntarily, a warm glow washing over me though I knew he was being polite rather than flirtatious.
"Have you eaten?" he asked, tilting his head in the direction of the buffet line.
I shook my head.
"Shall we?" He crooked his elbow gallantly.
I hesitated, then slipped my hand into his arm. He led me to the food and made small talk with the servers as we walked along the long table with our plates. I could barely concentrate on holding my plate steady and didn't contribute other than small smiles and nods. His voice echoed in my head: I'm glad you're here. I kept telling myself he was just being nice, but my stomach was fluttering. I stole glances at him out of the corner of my eye, watching his easy smile, his strong hands holding his plate.
I remembered having a crush on him at Kate's wedding, but I had just assumed it was his accent. Still, I probably mooned over him that whole evening. Now, though, the attraction I felt rushing through me went far beyond a childish crush. He was unbelievably sexy. Thick, dark brown hair, warm brown eyes that seemed to glitter when he smiled, broad shoulders and a clearly well-defined body that even a suit couldn't disguise. He was all man - one hundred percent sexy, hunky man. I shook my head slightly, my thoughts so pronounced I was afraid for a moment that I'd spoken the words out loud.
I tried in vain to remember how old he was; I knew he was younger than my Uncle Daniel, but beyond that I had no idea. Nick's parents had acted as host family for my uncle when he spent a year abroad. The two families had become very close, keeping in touch and visiting each other frequently after that. I didn't know how old Nick was when Uncle Daniel lived there, but I guessed he was in his forties now, though he looked more like thirty. My stomach dropped. There was no way he'd look at me as anything other than a kid. Actually, there was no way a man like Nick would find me romantically appealing anyway, but the age difference certainly couldn't help.
I followed him to an empty table, trying not to look like a sullen teenager. I didn't understand the wide range of emotions I was experiencing in just the short time since he'd first said my name. Nick pulled out a chair for me and I gave him a pleased smile. He was being so chivalrous and sweet my mood couldn't do anything but brighten. I tried to relax and enjoy his company.
"Tell me what you've been doing with yourself since I saw you last," he said as we began to eat.
"Um, I just finished college," I said awkwardly.
He smiled and congratulated me, and began asking about my major and college experience. I felt childish talking about a part of his life that was long over, but he was attentive and drew me out. He's good at this, I thought. He asked more than surface questions. Some of them made me really think about my answers and spurred in-depth conversations rather than just small talk.
There was a short silence as servers came around with wine. I watched his hand holding the glass, circling it a moment, then bringing it up to his nose before he took a sip. Everything he did was sexy. I felt like I could just watch him for days.
"So, Cassandra," he said in his delicious accent. "What are your plans now?"
"I'm staying with my parents right now," I said self-consciously. "Working and saving up money - a friend and I are moving to New York in a few months."
He raised his eyebrows. "That's wonderful. What will you be doing there?"
"I have a job lined up at NYU," I said, feeling embarrassed about my meager life plans. "I figure I'll do that for a year before starting grad school. If I can handle the city," I added.
"Handle it?" he repeated, puzzled. "Why wouldn't you be able to handle it?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, it's a big city. You know...it'll be quite a change."
"I have all the confidence you'll do more than handle it," he said warmly, smiling that gorgeous smile.
"Well, my parents aren't crazy about the idea, so it'll probably be more surprising for them than me if I stay," I admitted, giving a small laugh.
"I moved to New York last year, actually," he said.
The rate at which my heart sped up was startling.
"Really?" I asked excitedly. "Do you love it?"
He grinned at my enthusiasm. "I do. It's brilliant, I think you'll find you fit right in."
He pulled his wallet from his inside jacket pocket and took out a business card. Grabbing a pen, he wrote something on it before handing it to me.
"My contact information," he said, looking into my eyes kindly. "My personal email and mobile number are on the back."
I took it with shaking hands. I know I looked at the words but couldn't read anything.
"Thanks," I said with a big smile.
He nodded. "If you need help with anything before you move, I am at your service." He paused, still holding my eyes. "And I would love to see you when you get there, if you have the time."
I blinked rapidly, hoping I'd heard him correctly.
"I would like that," I said quietly.
Suddenly afraid I would lose it, I hurriedly took my phone out of my clutch and slipped the card inside the phone case, gripping it tightly for a moment to make sure it wouldn't slide out. I glanced at him in time to see his eyes shift away as if he'd been watching me, but I was too giddy to be embarrassed.
We sat there for a while after the dishes had been cleared, greeting family and friends as they wandered past. I had spent a semester in London in college, so we shared stories of the city and the other places in England I had visited. I asked him everything I could think of about living in New York. I had visited several times - my friend Gwen grew up in Newark and we'd go into the city whenever I visited her - but day trips aren't the same as living there. Nick had an almost poetic way of describing it and I'm sure I looked entranced. After all, I was.
When Uncle Daniel appeared to invite Nick outside for a cigar, I waited until they were out of sight before taking out his business card. I quickly entered the information into my phone in case the card got lost. Flipping it over, I felt an inexplicable rush of excitement at the sight of his handwriting, strong with a commanding slant. I forced myself to return the card and phone to my purse and looked around. Seeing my sisters at the bar, I headed over to join them.
"Cassie," Penelope said breathlessly, her eyes dancing. "How do you know Nick?"
"How do you know Nick?" I asked petulantly.
Penny had been at Kate's wedding but had been so focused on her boyfriend at the time that I'd barely seen her for the entire reception. She giggled and I tried not to scowl.
My sisters and I couldn't be more different, in looks and personality. The only features we had in common were our blue eyes and our smiles. I was a carbon copy of our mother: on the short side with plain brown hair that was on most days an unruly, curly mess. I had an ample chest - the only advantage I really had over them - and hourglass figure, which I suppose is attractive, but being so short it just made me feel chubby. Penny and Thea had inherited the body type from our dad's side of the family, each with trim, athletic shapes. Penny was a knockout with thick, straight jet-black hair that she wore long. Thea's beauty was more understated; she had our mother's coloring though her hair is a luscious auburn color.
Mom and I also shared a more introverted personality. She was the quiet one at parties while my dad made friends with anyone and everyone. Penny had our father's easy confidence and charm; Thea had Dad's analytical intelligence, which led to her skipping a grade in elementary school and graduating from high school at sixteen. Thea was only a year older than Penny but had the classic first-child traits of organization, reliability, and ambition. She encompassed the best of our parents' personalities, in my opinion: calm and reflective while never having trouble talking to anyone.
All my life I'd felt like the little kid trying to keep up with them or find my place; neither the brilliant student with refined, elegant looks that Thea was or the gorgeous life of the party like Penny. It was part of the reason I decided to move to New York with Gwen. The thought of living there frightened me, but I knew I needed to try it. I had to see if I could move out of the shadow of my sisters, even though I knew that shadow was my own creation.
"I asked Katie," Penelope was saying now with a shrug. "He's hot."
"He's way too old for you, Pen," Thea said good-naturedly.
"He's only thirty-nine," our sister protested.
"How do you know that?" I exclaimed, my mind racing. Nick was younger than I'd expected. Still too old to consider me anything but a child, but still.
"Katie," Penelope repeated impatiently.
I couldn't help looking at her admiringly. It never would have occurred to me to grill our cousin about Nick. If it had, I surely would have been awkward and obvious in doing so. But even without hearing their conversation, I know Penelope made it seem like she was asking Kate as part of casual conversation. She navigated social situations - whether with men or not - with such ease.
"You didn't answer my question," Penny said to me.
I shrugged awkwardly. "He was at Katie's wedding. We hung around asking him anything we could think of so we could hear his accent."
Penelope laughed, giving me her usual indulgent, older-sister smile. I was glad when Kate and Maggie joined us and the subject changed. I kept an eye out for Nick, trying not to make it obvious. As it turned out I didn't need to search for him. The energy in the room seemed to suddenly change when he entered the ballroom - I could feel the hairs on my arms stand on end and it was as if all the noise receded slightly. Watching the doorway out of the corner of my eye, I could see him standing with Uncle Daniel, chatting while their eyes both swept around the room. When Nick saw us, his gaze stopped and they both headed in our direction. My chest was fluttering and I tried to steady my breathing.
My sisters introduced themselves to Nick and Penny smiled brightly at him while everyone talked. I shifted my eyes between them, hoping I didn't look jealous. Uncle Daniel announced he wanted to dance with his daughter on her wedding day, and they made their way to the dance floor. The next thing I knew, there was a hand gently holding my elbow. I shivered at the touch and looked up at Nick through my lashes.
"May I have this dance, Cassandra?" he asked with a smile.
I opened my mouth to respond but was speechless. I think I managed a nod and he led me to the dance floor. My throat was dry as he turned to face me, lifting my hand into his and resting his other hand lightly on my back. Our bodies weren't touching but just the slight pressure of his hands was enough to make my eyes drift shut for a moment. I forced myself to open them, staring at his chest as we danced. I peeked up at him and found him looking at me, the corners of his mouth turned up. I swallowed.
"You know, you don't have to call me Cassandra. Everyone calls me Cassie, or Cass," I said weakly.
I tried to remember if he had called me by my full name at Kate's wedding but I doubted he had said my name at all then. His smile was enigmatic.
"Ah, but Cassie is a girl's name. You're a woman now," he said quietly.
I blinked rapidly in astonishment. A woman. I felt almost light-headed. The words combined with his gentle tone, in that accent, sounded so seductive.
"Maybe. But it is a lot of syllables," I joked.
He laughed, a low rumble emitting from his chest that I felt through our joined hands. I smiled at the sound.
"I think I can manage it," he remarked. "What's Thea short for?" he asked suddenly. "Theadora?"
"Athena," I replied quietly, wondering despondently if my oldest sister had caught his eye as opposed to Penny. "Thea is what Penny could pronounce when she was learning to speak, and the name stuck."
"Really - Cassandra, Penelope, Athena..." His eyes were twinkling. "Your parents have a fascination with the Greeks."
"That's right," I said, impressed. I wasn't accustomed to people making the connection; most of my peers weren't familiar with Greek history. "Actually just my mom - she's a history professor. I think my dad was steamrolled."
He laughed again, squeezing my hand this time, and my smile widened. He had a gorgeous laugh, and it was thrilling to know that I could elicit it from him.
"But at least it's better than naming us, say, Clytemnestra or Medea," I continued, grinning.
I'd made him laugh again, this time so hard that his eyes narrowed into slits. He pulled me slightly closer to him when he spoke.
"Though Helen would have worked as well," he said.
"Yeah," I said wryly. "For Penny."
His brow wrinkled for a moment, then he shook his head at me fondly, but didn't speak. The dance floor began to get crowded and our bodies moved closer together to accommodate the couples surrounding us. My heart was beating so fast I was sure he'd be able to hear it. The song was coming to an end and I inadvertently held his hand a little tighter as if that could slow down time. I felt his hand travel up my back until it was between my shoulder blades. I was staring at his chest and my eyes widened. My dress was a halter so his hand was on my bare skin, warm and strong. I took a long breath, trying to memorize every detail of how it felt. Without thinking I leaned forward to rest my cheek on his shoulder. I felt him tense slightly as if in surprise, but only for a second. Then he brought our joined hands to rest on his chest, his other hand tickling the ends of my hair. I closed my eyes.
It seemed like an instant later that the song ended and couples around us broke apart when the next song with a speedy tempo started. Nick and I stepped apart simultaneously, but he didn't let go of my hand. He lifted my arm and twirled me around once, stopping me with a hand on my hip when I faced him again. I giggled.
"Thank you for the dance, my lady," he said formally, giving a small bow before straightening and grinning.
"Thank you, kind sir," I replied, bobbing in a small curtsy.
Laughing, he tucked my hand into the crook of his arm as we walked back to our table. I couldn't feel the floor under my feet as I glided next to him.
A few months later Gwen and I were settling into our apartment in the West Village. We knew how lucky we were - her parents had bought it just after they finished college and kept it once they'd moved to New Jersey. Gwen's older sister had been living in it for the past five years but she had recently moved to California, so the timing was perfect. Her parents insisted on giving us a reduced rent, and I knew my parents felt better about me moving to New York once they learned I would be in a secure building. The apartment was small, but still better than we'd have been able to afford in this neighborhood - or anywhere else in the city - otherwise.
I was scurrying around the apartment, not finding anything I needed, and noticed Gwen was organizing the CDs.
"Really?" I asked. "I can't find my hair dryer and you're already alphabetizing the CDs?"
She looked up from where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor and grinned.
"Hey, I'm not the one who has a man to impress tonight."
"Gwen!" I looked at her in shock.
She very obviously swallowed a laugh. "Use my hair dryer - it's on my bed."
I couldn't help smirking. I had told Gwen about Nick immediately after Maggie's wedding. In fact, I had mentioned him every time she and I spoke over the summer. Being the easygoing friend that she was, she indulged me and never seemed annoyed by my gushing.
I had waited a full four days after seeing Nick at the wedding before I emailed him. Even though email is essentially one step above doing nothing in terms of communication, it still felt like a bold move for me. I kept it short, telling him it was nice seeing him again and that I'd get in touch when I got to New York. He'd replied right away, and we began corresponding frequently. By the time my move approached, we were in the habit of exchanging several emails a day. I'd check my phone or laptop constantly and experienced a palpable thrill whenever I saw his name in my inbox.